Just before Christmas I received an email from the Sojourners’ Community in America. It was entitled: “Why I left my church.” Jim Wallis, many years ago as a 15 year old white boy clearly concerned about the racism he saw in his neighbourhood, raised the matter in his church. “Jim,” he was told by an elder, “Christianity has nothing to do with racism. That’s political, and our faith is personal.”
Jim left his church as I suspect I would have done. I was reminded of this when two men were finally found guilty of the murder of Stephen Lawrence. The Macpherson inquiry set up after Stephen’s murder revealed “institutional racism” in the Metropolitan Police. I saw evidence of that myself as a young man in London, and such attitudes, not confined to the police, reflected British society of the day. A former tutor of mine, Rev Peter Boyd, challenged the racism he saw around him in London many years ago by placing outside his church a sign that read, “Jesus was a black man.” Some people found that very challenging and Peter received hate mail as a result. British society today has changed but racism remains even if not as overtly.
So is racism a matter of Christianity or politics? It seems to me that a Christianity that doesn’t touch our politics or our relationships with each other in church or with our neighbours is worthless. A Christianity that leaves us blind to the divine image in others whatever the artificial human classification we lay upon them is some way short of Christ-likeness.
All good religion teaches the Golden Rule of loving as you would be loved. Christianity demands that that must apply even to the unloveable, the unlovely – that is those we find to be unloveable, unlovely. I often say that we are not required to like each other (that may be impossible) but to love each other, which is sometimes easy and sometimes just plain hard work!
What a world we might have if we could see the divine image in everyone we met as they might see the same in us.
Jim Wallis? He returned to the church in later years to lead the Sojourners’ Community in Washington: “a committed group of Christians who work together to live a gospel life that integrates spiritual renewal and social justice.”
Oh, and by the way: Happy New Year to all my readers; glad to have you dropping by.